Farming and humanity versus the environment | Letters

Guy Smith says it’s unfair to point the finger at farming as the cause of environmental damage, Iain Climie addresses food wastage and Dr Blake Alcott says the most effective way to reduce your carbon footprint is to not reproduce

One fundamental point has been overlooked by Kevin Rushby in his article about the plight of the countryside due to agriculture (The killing fields, G2, 31 May). There has been no intensification of agriculture in the UK for 25 years.

Government statistics show pesticide and fertiliser use has been significantly reduced. There are fewer crops grown and the numbers of pigs, sheep and cattle have fallen. So to point the finger at farming as the cause of environmental degradation through intensification makes no sense, especially when you consider the other changes that have taken place in that time – increased housebuilding, more roads, and more cars on those roads – and the impact they have had on the country’s landscape.

As British farmers we are up for the challenge of improving the way we farm in harmony with wildlife while not decreasing food production. But this will not be achieved through some sort of kneejerk blame game that focuses purely on agriculture rather than the bigger picture about how we are all leading our lives and using Britain’s land.

We should remember here that if British farmers produce less then we as a nation become more dependent on imports for our food needs. These will most likely come from countries where environmental protection gets lower priority.

The British countryside is not a degraded, sterile landscape. It is a rich and beautiful one managed by farmers and much appreciated by most people. I’d urge your reporters to drive through the agricultural heartlands of the US midwest, South America or eastern Europe and report back how they compare with our green and pleasant land.
Guy Smith
Deputy president, National Farmers’ Union

• Industrialised agriculture is often harmful (Industrial-scale beef production is a sign of crisis in our farming, 31 May) but is often claimed to be necessary for food security. Levels of food wastage suggest otherwise.

The IMechE’s Waste Not, Want Not report estimates that at least 30% of global production never reaches shops or markets, while massive waste occurs in shops, restaurants, canteens, homes, outside fast-food stores and on airlines. Wasteful uses of human food include livestock feed, biofuels, alcoholic drinks, cosmetics and even packaging. Add in overeating, excessive cash-crop production and the stampede to cover good land in development, and clearly there is massive scope for both increasing and improving food supplies just by reducing waste, although there are other options. Methane-reducing feed additives for ruminant livestock have existed for decades but not been adopted, even though they often boost growth.
Iain Climie
Whitchurch, Hampshire

• Your report on the study led by Joseph Poore (Avoid meat and dairy to reduce your impact on planet, say scientists, 1 June) is right about everything concerning our production of meat and dairy foods except that by far the single most effective thing you can do to reduce your environmental footprint is to not reproduce. The most recent of many studies showing this, published in 2017 by researchers at Sweden’s Lund University and Canada’s University of British Columbia (Best solution to climate change? Fewer children, 12 July 2017), found that having one fewer child was about 60 times more effective than eating a plant-based diet, 30 times better than avoiding airplane travel and 20 times better than living car-free.

Since the study led by Poore did not rigorously compare the environmental impact of our diet with such other factors, he cannot base his claim that diet is “the single biggest way” for us to lower our footprints on that study. It is not in the interest of either sustainability or quality of life for the Guardian to continue to almost always regard population size as a negligible impact factor. All environmental and animal-welfare problems are much easier to solve at the present human population level – or of course lower – than after the highly likely addition of 2 or 3 billion more people in the next few decades.
Dr Blake Alcott
Istanbul, Turkey

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